I read thrillers on holiday for the same reason that people watch Soap Operas at lunchtime or of an evening. I want to be entertained and temporarily drawn away from the demanding routine of my life into another world. If I vaguely care about the people in that world, that’s a bonus. If I learn something in the process, either about life or myself – well, that’s a double bonus.
The is book is the second in Jonathan Holt’s Carnivia trilogy and I bought it on the strength of really enjoying The Boatman (the first in the series). It shared many of the qualities that brought me enjoyment of the first novel.
The reader is drawn into the book by a very skilful abduction of a teenager, and the attempts of the police to find her. Straight away there is tension to be resolved. The kidnappers keep ratcheting up the suffering they are imposing on their victim. Two of the main police protagonists are at odds with their superiors about how to proceed, and also at odds with each other, making any successful resolution look difficult. Finally, the straightforward kidnap starts to look less than straightforward. In a sense we think we know who did it, but then that certainty also starts to unravel.
For me, the genius of the book – the moment where I stopped reading and thought, “Wow, that’s clever! Why didn’t I think of that?” happens about two-thirds of the way through where someone outside the police force brings an entirely different perspective on the case by asking a simple question. And that question ultimately leads to a resolution.
But the book is so much richer than a very skilfully told kidnap and find story. There are at least three other layers operating alongside, underneath, and above the story. The author successfully weaves an historical perspective linked to the case involving the possible loss of Venice to the Communists after the Second World War. There is an historical who-dunnit to solve as well as information about the political corruption up to the present. There are moral questions for priests to face as the involvement of the Catholic Church in the emerging cover-up is revealed. And finally, there are the Americans. To be honest, the Americans don’t come out of this too well. This is a very rich book.
I was entertained by being taken in detail into other worlds. In one sense this was relatively trivial (but satisfying) material. I found myself Googling some of the recipes for the dishes eaten in the restaurants. As a minor techo-nerd I was fascinated by the descriptions of the techniques employed by the computer wizards and the attempts by the police to frustrate one of them in particular. I was intrigued by the insights into the Vatican archives, and into the US military training techniques and equipment. I was horrified by the detailed information about the deniable torture techniques employed by the Americans on their detainees. But most of all, I learned a lot of interesting general information about post-war Italian politics. And, at the end, the author carefully lays out the genuine historical material which he used to create the backcloth to the initial kidnap story that became so much more intriguing.
I can thoroughly recommend this book. I’ve already purchased the third in the series.